Edward Burne-Jones was a leading figure of the second generation of Pre-Raphaelitism. Inspired by medieval, classical and biblical themes, his works depicting courtly love and battles between good and evil helped bring Pre-Raphaelites into the main stream. Noted for his romanticized style, many of his pieces were classified as some of the finest of the Pre-Raphaelite school.
Edward Coley Burne-Jones was born on August 28, 1833 in Birmingham, the son of Edward Richard Jones, a small business owner, and Elizabeth Coley. His mother suffered complications after giving birth and died a few days later. Edward received his early education at King Edward’s School in Birmingham and then went on to attend a government School of Design in 1848.
In 1853, Edward went to Exeter College in Oxford with the intention of entering the Church. There, he met William Morris, who was to become his lifelong friend and an associate in a number of decorative projects. They shared a passion for the medieval, as well as the writings of Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin.
The two friends embarked on a tour of the northern French cathedrals in 1855 when it became clear to both of them that they needed to change vocations. Edward Burne-Jones would pursue art while William Morris would follow his passion for architecture. The two young men became late recruits to Pre-Raphaelitism when they left Oxford to study under Rossetti in 1856. Edward’s early works consisted of romantic or literary subjects in pen and ink and watercolors.
After visits to Italy in 1859 and in1862, Edward Burne-Jones began to develop his own style as he embraced some classical and Pre-Raphaelite traits. In 1860, the artist married Georgiana Macdonald, the sister of an old school friend, and became one of the founding members and principal designer for the decorative arts firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. His decorative works were a contribution to the evolution of Pre-Raphaelite design, some of which were later transformed into paintings.
Edward Burne-Jones displayed elements of Rossettian Pre-Raphaelitism that fused classical art and Old Master painting. In 1864, he was elected an Associate of the Old Water Color Society. ‘The Merciful Knight’ was one of his first exhibits. During this time, his work became more reminiscent of the High Renaissance painters, taking on a decidedly formal and decorative style. Criticism of his piece entitled ‘Phylis and Demonphoon’, which portrayed nude male and female figures, caused him to resign from the Old Water Color Society in 1870. For the next seven years he worked in virtual seclusion at The Grange, Fulham, in west London.
Focused on painting in oils, Edward Burne-Jones was a major contributor to the first exhibition of the Grosvenor Gallery in London in 1877. He gained a reputation as a leading artist of the Aesthetic Movement. ‘The Beguiling of Merlin’ and ‘The Mirror of Venus’ were some of the paintings displayed.
During a forty year career, the artist produced over two hundred oil paintings, a vast array of stained glass designs, numerous tapestries and mosaics, and manuscript illustrations. He was knighted in 1894, four years before his death on June 17, 1898. Sir Edward Burne-Jones died of heart failure and his ashes rest at the church in Rottingdean, Sussex, close to his country home.